TRENTON – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division on Civil Rights announced today that the Division has found no merit to an unlawful discrimination complaint filed against the Camden City public school district by an ex-employee fired for removing school property without authorization.
Specifically, the Division held in a Finding of No Probable Cause that the Camden district had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for discharging custodial services inspector J.W.
Without authorization, J.W. filled a school district van with district-owned tables and chairs to furnish a private graduation party she was hosting and – in a separate incident – was recorded on surveillance video placing a box of district-owned janitorial supplies in her personal vehicle.
In the No Finding of Probable Cause issued last month, Division Director Craig T. Sashihara found no basis for a civil rights complaint filed by J.W. alleging that her termination was discriminatory and based on her gender, as well as a “disability” related to a prior injury that required surgery. Neither, the Director wrote, did the Division’s investigation support J.W.’s claim that her firing was tantamount to disparate treatment because it represented more severe punishment than a male co-worker received for what she argued was similar conduct.
“The Attorney General’s Office and the Division on Civil Rights have a duty to protect and seek redress for those who, legitimately, have been shown to be the victims of bias and unequal treatment,” said Attorney General Porrino. “However, we are not a rubber stamp. We have a duty to investigate every complaint and filter out those which, upon review, are found to be unsupported by the facts and the law. We take that duty very seriously.”
J.W. – her name is being withheld for reasons of medical privacy – was a 20-year employee of the Camden school district, working in the district’s main warehouse, when she submitted a self-generated work order in 2012 requesting that 10 tables and 60 chairs be pulled from one of the city schools and moved to the warehouse.
On the appointed day – a Saturday – she found the tables and chairs had not been moved. J.W. then took a van assigned to the school district’s electricians and drove to the school where the tables and chairs were located. Once there, she disarmed the school’s alarm system, removed the tables and chairs and loaded them into the van.
A school custodian who was working that Saturday expressed concern about what J.W. was doing, but she falsely assured him her actions were authorized. The custodian nonetheless contacted the school principal, who then contacted J.W.
J.W. told the school principal the same thing – that she had authorization to take the tables and chairs. J.W. subsequently used the furniture – off-site – for a private graduation party she hosted. She returned the tables and chairs the following Monday.
J.W. subsequently received a 30-day suspension (later reduced to 10 days following an internal appeal), not only because she’d removed tables and chairs and used a school district van without authorization, but because she’d also created false documentation in support of her action – in the form of the bogus work order.
J.W. was fired in 2013 after a second incident in which she was seen on surveillance video – recorded outside one of the city’s public schools – putting a box of air fresheners into her district-assigned vehicle. Footage from later that same night – recorded at the warehouse to which J.W. was assigned -- showed her transferring the box of air fresheners from her work vehicle to her personal vehicle.
J.W., who returned the air fresheners a week later, claimed she’d experienced an allergic reaction to the items, and had taken them home to assess whether or not they were hazardous. However, when J.W. met with a school district Human Resources official as part of the district’s own review of her conduct, she acknowledged having not reported her safety concerns to her supervisor, not reported removing the box of air fresheners to her home, and not seeing a doctor about her own purportedly allergic reaction.
J.W. subsequently complained to the Camden school district’s EEO officer that she was subjected to workplace discrimination, because a male co-worker allegedly had engaged in conduct similar to her own and received comparatively lighter punishment.
In the situation referenced by J.W., the male co-worker had given away antiquated playground equipment and furniture that none of the district’s schools wanted – and which had been stored in an old, out-of-service school building – to the Camden City Fire Department.
School district officials told Division investigators that, although the worker lacked authority to donate the unwanted equipment, the material in question was agreed by all concerned to have no value, and was earmarked to be discarded in any case. As a result, the Division was told, the worker received only a three-day suspension.
Division on Civil Rights Investigator Kevin McNierney handled the Camden school district matter on behalf of the State.
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